HSE do not distinguish between laboratories handling m.bovis, farms under TB restriction due to the exposure of their cattle to it, or exposure in the countryside from wildlife. As we quoted in that posting, they require Risk Assessment forms, data logs of visitors and protection offered. Up to date COHSS papers describe m.bovis thus:
Natural hosts: Cows, [but] also found in badgers and deer.
Disease in humans: Chronic progressive disease with fever and weight loss.
Transmission: Originally through drinking unpasteurised milk. Now from breathing in of infectious aerosols of respiratory discharges and possibly handling meat from infected animals.
We are glad that the 'unpasteurised milk' loophole as the cause of bTB, firmly closed for the majority during the TB eradication schemes of the 1950s and 1960s, is starting to die a death and HSE are at last beginning to wake up to 'aerosol' infection from all infected animals including wildlife. As in environmental contamination.
So what are the implications for farmers whose herds are under restriction from TB?
For open spaces where the public have a 'right to roam, and footpaths which cross territory occupied by infected wildlife?
For National Trust land, including the 'badger watch' areas of Woodchester Park?
In the words of a litigation lawyer, "there is no such thing as 'low risk'". Either there is risk, or there is not. You can't be a 'little bit pregnant', so no half way house, which is what Defra have been trying to argue with bTB. We have said many times that the level of environmental contamination which the tested, slaughtered sentinel cattle are flagging up, is something which our population, and other mammals have not encountered before. But not only is it reckless and dangerous to put them 'at risk', it may be against the many laws surrounding the control of this pathogen.
From HSE and top lawyers, the advice is that any risk must be advised, both to the public and to employees. Risk assessments undertaken, and all guidelines followed as befits the seriousness of this Grade 3 pathogen. As far as insurance goes, the matter is far from clear. But the gist of today's conversations is that if the steps advised in HSE literature have not been followed, including warning the public of the possible risk, then damages could be considerable.
So who should be responsible? For that and some sense we have to look to Switzerland, where Dr. Ueli Zellweger tells us that the Swiss veterinary authorities use public notices in their newspapers to post details of animal diseases, particularly zoonoses. Thus they fulfill their obligations to 'inform' their population of 'risk', and more importantly, what they are doing to reduce it. That way, he says, they keep the public both informed and on side.
So is there scope here for Defra to actually use the risk assessments which AHO have to complete for every new herd breakdown? These are the ones which the ISG did not use for the
Defra do however have the logistics with which to offer the appropriate 'risk' advice, in the form of their Parish testing maps. If a single farm within a parish has a confirmed TB breakdown, then the parish testing interval is reduced to annually. Twenty years ago, the job would have been quite small - just a scattering of dots on the map of GB - as shown on here and on page 60 of the ISG Final Report.
But two decades of prevarication mean that every parish shown in red on the most recent Defra map is on an annual testing regime. Thus environmental 'risk advice' is a much more comprehensive job.
That does not mean that it can be shirked.
(Maps courtesy of Defra, are Crown Copyright and must not be reproduced for commercial purposes, without permission from the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. They may be used for news reporting or research.)